Adding Color to Photos

So how far do you go with image editing and post processing?  Just some slight boost and sharpening to keep it realistic, or very artistic and fantastic, beyond what’s real?  That’s a question I’ve been running into.

I guess the answer is: As far as you want to.

There is both a technical, logical, realist and an creative artist in me, and sometimes they argue.  I like a colorful and bold style, so I usually boost saturation and contrast in my photos, sometimes more than what the real scene looked like when I was standing there shooting it.  But in these “before and after” photos, I am adding color to a photo where there wasn’t any before.

Hilltop Tree - No Editing

Hilltop Tree – No Editing

This photo was taken with my EOS 10D in Chino Hills State Park in southern California. This is the JPEG that the camera spit out. This was before I learned the value of shooting in RAW format. The rolling hills and lone tree on top made an interesting composition, but I never did anything with this file for the past 7 years because it was rather dull. The sky is colorless and the rest… well, brown.  I’ve been practicing with Aperture 3 and some NIK plug-in software. I did this photo with NIK Color Efex Pro 4.

Hilltop Tree - Color Added

Hilltop Tree – Color Added

Using some software filters, including graduated and color effects, this photo has taken on an entirely different mood!  I did try to be gentle and muted with the effect and keep it somewhat natural. If you saw this photo alone, without the “before” picture, you might not see anything artificial about it.  But those colors and the density in the sky certainly are artificial.

This last weekend I went out to walk on some trails around some wastewater treatment ponds. Not septic systems, just managing water drainage and runoff from the roads and fields above. It does rain a lot in Washington, after all.  It’s the middle of winter now, so there isn’t as much color around as usual.

Grass Clumps

Grass Clumps

I shot this with my EOS 7D with the 70-200mm f/4L.  I thought the row of light colored grass and their reflections in the water was interesting. The sun was just about to set behind trees to the right of the photo.  But I wanted to make this photo something more.  And I probably overdid it!

Glowing Grass

Glowing Grass

There is a “bi-color” filter and an artistic “glow” effect in play here.  The glow effect softens the sharpness of the details, but it does add a soft, dreamy effect. This one is definitely less realistic than the first edit, but I like it, even though I know some people won’t.  Is it an improvement? That’s probably subjective. I could edit this photo in several different directions, some more realistic and authentic looking than others.  My wife says I should apply more of a vintage look, and that this is too strong and obvious.  I did just say some people won’t like it, didn’t I?  Well, she has an art degree in interior design, so she probably knows better.  I’m just an accountant who likes to push photographs into the range of surreal and fantasy sometimes. I don’t get paid to do this, so it might as well be fun!


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